First Year Abroad Students Gain Global Perspective on Music at Berklee’s Campus in Valencia, Spain

First Year Abroad Perfect Martin sits at the centre of this image during the Fall 2017 Orientation Week. Photo by Tato Baeza.

Berklee’s recently launched First Year Abroad program helps to establish it as a global institution and to create learning pathways between its Boston, Massachusetts, and Valencia, Spain, campuses. This program is now available to all applicants to any Berklee undergraduate program, and for the first time, they can indicate whether they are interested in starting their undergraduate journey in Valencia during the admission process. “At this stage, we ensure that they are the right fit for the Valencia campus, and we advise them on every step,” says Pilar Vicente, director of enrollment in Valencia.

A Common Curriculum Highlighting the International Experience

Vicente shares that around 15–20 percent of Berklee applicants showed interest in the First Year Abroad program, and 36 students have enrolled for the current academic year. The program follows the same core curriculum as the one taken by entering students on the Boston campus, including such classes as ear training, harmony, music application and theory, and introduction to music technology, among other subjects. “Students must have a learning experience that is similar to what they're going to find when they transition to Boston since they will be continuing their studies on the main campus,” says Enric Alberich, director of the program.

On the other hand, he continues, the design of the content also considered the elements that differentiate the Valencia experience from the one in Boston. “This has been mainly achieved through cocurricular experiences provided by the Office of Student Affairs, the liberal arts courses we offer, and several aspects specific to our campus like its size, which makes Berklee Valencia more "handy" before getting into the institution in its full dimension,” Alberich says. “They are also exposed to programs and services that emphasize the global music industry and international career paths,” Vicente adds.

Watch the testimonial from First Year Abroad student Sophia Wellington:

Clara Barberá, director of student affairs, explains that her department has “tailored a programming strategy” for these students, which consists of two stages. “During the first semester, they need time to settle down and get comfortable with themselves, college life, and Valencia. Later on they get to explore the vast realm of opportunities for growth and development available to them beyond their classes here in Spain,” she says.

Noah Slate, an 18-year-old freshman from Richmond, Virginia, is one of the students who opted to start his academic path in Valencia, moved by the opportunity to travel more. “I explored Berklee's website, looking at all of the opportunities that I could have pending my acceptance, and the First Year Abroad Program stood out to me,” he says.

“During the fall break, I went to Seville, Spain, and London and Dover in England. Being on top of the white cliffs of Dover was by far the most incredible experience I've ever had. It's also surprising to me just how much Spanish I've learned in the course of three months,” he says. Slate points out that he’s a French horn player with a classical background and that Berklee is pushing him to learn other genres like jazz. “Being forced to be out of my comfort zone has helped me to improve,” he adds.

“The program sounded like a great opportunity,” says Perfect Martin, who shares that she has never been out of the U.S. before. “I wanted to observe life from a different perspective and experience a new way of thinking, stretch my legs a little and change up my scenery,” she adds. Eunhee Jo was also keen to experience what it’s like to live in a foreign country. “I regretted not studying abroad and not traveling enough when I was earning my first degree,” she says.

Martin explains that she’s really enjoying the Contemporary Instrumental Gospel Ensemble (CIGE) class. “I’m standing in as a guest vocalist because the ensemble is instrumentation only. It’s very exciting to be part of this group,” she says.

Barberá describes some of the many cocurricular programs that students have been enjoying so far within Berklee Valencia’s Certificate of Community Engagement and Leadership program. “They have had the opportunity to become senior ambassadors for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals Program in collaboration with the UN Headquarters here in Valencia, or to perform, produce, and organize a collaboration with the YMCA in Valencia, among other projects,” she says. Other activities include cooking and enjoying a traditional paella and performing with a semi professional orchestra through the Valencia Film Orchestra.

Watch a studio recording session with CIGE, led by alumnus and faculty member Joshua Wheatley:

A Family-Like Environment

By the end of the first semester, students work with an advisor to declare a major they will pursue in Boston. “The academic advising team in Boston works in coordination with Academic Affairs on the Valencia campus. A specific advisor in Boston and in Valencia have been made available to students, someone they can consult regularly at their convenience,” says Alberich. When he returns to Boston, Slate will focus on film scoring as his major with a minor in video game scoring.

Talking about his adaptation to Valencia, Slate believes that the size of the campus really works for newcomers, “especially since our schedules are already limited, being so early in our Berklee careers.” Moreover, his impression is that the campus is “beautiful, clean, and well-placed within the city.” Valencia itself, he says, “is a great, safe city which seems to have a little bit of everything, so it works well for everyone's wishes.”

Jo highlights the intimacy of the campus. “I love the instructor-to-student ratio. Due to the smaller class sizes, I feel very close to my instructors, and I’m able to receive help more openly and intently,” she says. Martin enjoys that fact that every day she’s learning something new about Valencia. “The city is so alive at night! These people really know how to celebrate life,” she says.

Alberich highlights that the first semester has been about integrating students to their new environment and with students from the other programs “Several experiences designed to foster interaction have occurred, like concerts, where students from all programs have participated together.” First Year Abroad students have also had access to the studios and had a recording experience. “Most of the comments I hear is that they are super excited about being here and that this is the best decision they've made in their lives,” says Alberich.

Slate is an example of a First Year Abroad student who has benefited from meeting peers enrolled in the other undergraduate and graduate programs offered in Valencia. “The people I am closest with now are in their bachelor’s degree third semester, so I'll see them in Boston soon enough. Besides, I can meet new Berklee Study Abroad students next semester and feel a little bit more ready for the transition to Boston,” says Slate.

“Try to connect with students who previously studied abroad on the Valencia campus,” says Jo, who also advises prospective students to learn Spanish as soon as possible. Martin, on the other hand, recommends that First Year Abroad students “come early to try to adjust to the time difference before classes start.” Despite the short time she’s been in Valencia, she already sees the positives of enrolling in the program. “I have changed so much. I hope this will help me grow professionally and personally into the musician I want to be,” she says.

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